The tower of books on a bookseller’s front table swells the newly published author’s heart with joy. She swoons, imagining all the happy readers laying down their hard-earned dollars to take this book home, where they will slowly turn the pages, revelling in her story, finally shelving her book with all their other treasured tomes. This is the fantasy.
Fall is prize season, with awards tumbling down like apples from orchard trees. Many bookish folk fashion their winter reading lists from the finalists, thinking to broaden their reading reach. But what if the prizes themselves create enclaves into which only certain writers are allowed?
Imagine listening to Maggie deVries’ Rabbit Ears
in Vancouver’s downtown east side, among the runaways, addicts, and women of the street she portrays. Or any David Adams Richards book while walking the shore of the broad Miramichi. Or canoeing north of Yellowknife in the company of Liz Hay’s Late Nights on Air.
Now imagine a story written to take you to a specific place, where what you see and hear and smell dives you deep, deep, deep into the words. That’s ambient literature.
Last seen: The Convict Lover
, at the Halifax International Airport, in the women’s washroom closest to the Clearwater lobster shop. Reported by Urban Kitten. Currently on the loose, travelling the world.
When Buenos Aires was the World Book Capital in 2011, the city constructed an 82-foot, wire-mesh tower that entrapped 30,000 used books donated by libraries, embassies, and individuals. Visitors climbed stairs inside the “Tower of Babel,” reading the titles and listening to Marta Minujín, the installation artist who conceived the project, repeating the word “book” in dozens of languages.
Don Vincente wanted just one thing: to own the sole surviving copy of Furs e ordinations
, printed in 1482 by Lamberto Palmart, Spain’s first printer. Vincente ran a Barcelona bookshop stocked with books he’d plundered from ancient monasteries, including the one near Tarragona where he once lived as a monk. When the Furs
finally came up for auction, he bid everything he had, but it wasn’t enough. The book went to his rival Paxtot, whose house mysteriously burst into flames a few nights later. The bookseller burned to death, but the precious Furs
was discovered unharmed in Vincente’s shop. At the trial, Don Vincente’s lawyer produced a second copy of the rare book. “You see,” he argued convincingly, “the one in Vincente’s shop was not necessarily Paxtot’s.”
“Execute me now!” moaned Don Vincente. “My copy is not the only one!”
Colmán of Elo was tired. Tired of reading and tired of the fly that buzzed across his vellum page.
“Sit!” he commanded the fly. The fly turned its mosaic eyes upon the blessed saint who wrote Airgitir Crábaid, now the earliest example of Old Irish Prose.
“Sit there!” commanded Colmán, pointing to the last word he’d read. And so the fly sat, patiently waiting until the saint returned to his reading in the Abbey of Muckamore.
In the photograph, the woman is naked except for manly black brogues and argyle socks held up by leather sock suspenders. She sits splay-legged on a stool. An antiquarian book the size of a ledger is propped open between her legs. With one hand, she turns a page. In the other she holds a long feathered quill. Her eyes are closed in ecstasy and her head tips back as she dips the pen deep into her wide open mouth.
Jonathan Swift imagined a battle of books in the night, volumes hurling themselves off the shelves to tear each other’s pages out. But what really happens when the lights are dimmed, when readers go home, when a library falls into disuse or is abandoned to human disaster?
Yet again I forgot to move my knife to my checked luggage. “But it’s a paper knife. For cutting open the pages of a book,” I explained to the security officer bent over my carry-on.
“I don’t care what you cut with it, m’am; you aren’t taking that knife on this plane.”